A Guide to San FranciscoIts ‘anything goes’ attitude probably turned earthquake-prone San Francisco from a sleazy mining town during the 1848 Gold Rush (which gave the world denim jeans) into America’s most cosmopolitan city and Gay Capital of the world. It’s also probably the loveliest city, sited on the tip of a 30-mile long peninsular between the great Pacific and the bay, overlooked by forty-three staggeringly steep hills covering 48 square miles.
Walk across that symbol of San Francisco, the 2-mile long rust-coloured Golden Gate Bridge but not when the fog rolls in or when high winds make the suspension bridge sway 27 feet in either direction. A sad commentary is the pavement help-lines for potential suicide victims.
Cablecars, invented by Andrew Hallidie in 1873 after watching horses struggle with heavy cartloads up the hills, are unique to San Francisco. Take a ride. Brass bells clang and cables clank as the cars are hauled up and down the hills.
The 19th century Silver Kings lived in opulent homes on Nob Hill; the steep streets of Russian Hill have been immortalised in countless films’ dizzy car chases; Lombard Street, the ‘crookedest’ street in the world, zigzags in eight sharp bends hugged by exquisite gardens; Telegraph Hill’s steep steps lead to the 210ft-high Coit Tower with 360-degree views.
Vibrant San Francisco is divided into distinct areas reflecting the cultural backgrounds of its exotic residents. Fisherman’s Wharf and North Beach form the Latin Quarter where the aroma of cappuccino is irresistible; densely populated Chinatown is the ‘Gilded Ghetto’, its bright façades camouflaging poverty; the Spanish Mission District boasts of the city’s oldest building, the 1782 Mission Dolores; Castro, the gay district, is known for its nightlife, film festivals and the Gay & Lesbian Pride Parade; Haight-Ashbury, home to the ‘flower children’ of the 1960s, is where the wealthy middle classes live in rows of Victorian houses.
Infamous Alcatraz Prison, on a 12-acre rocky island in the bay, was occupied by notorious criminals. Sheer cliffs, icy waters and dangerous currents ensured no escape from this hell-hole. Spare a thought for those who had been incarcerated in pitch-black solitary confinement as you enjoy modern San Fran, wishing you owned shares in Levi Strauss & Co!